Monday, February 2, 2009

therapy: a backstory.

i always thought it was a scam; some sort of excuse for being picky or weak or just plain scared. i still don't have it figured out, but i guess that's why i'm working through it now.

when i was young, i ate whatever i wanted. i will clarify-- i ate whatever my parents made. they made everything from scratch and shopped at co-ops and farmers' markets-- not exclusively, but often. my dad ran the sound system for ethnic festivals at hart plaza in detroit when i was young and at the end of the festivals, vendors would toss cases of food. my wonderfully resourceful dad saw it as a great opportunity and would bring home ethiopian food, indian, thai and greek before it was available on every corner, enough to feed an army! some of my most vivid childhood memories were grudgingly eating curried eggs behind the door in the corner of the living room... and the day my dad came home with a case of brussel sprouts and turned them into soup. vats of the lumpy green stuff seemed to fill the freezer for months. i can still taste it! i was made fun of for my pesto pizza in elementry school, a result of a case of wilting basil and several smoking blenders.

so how did i get here? eating an organic banana and brown rice cake (ingredients: brown rice, salt. gluten- and wheat-free.) and looking forward to my plain buffalo burger i'm planning for lunch? i decided to stop eating meat my junior year of college while studying abroad in ireland. it was my first time living on my own and since i didn't eat much meat and honestly, raw chicken is just icky, i thought, why not? i'll cut out meat for a while and see how i feel. i knew how to make complete proteins with whole grains, beans, and dairy. i grew up eating tofu, drinking chai with soy milk. i woundn't live off of pasta and potato chips or fake vegetarian bacon, i would be healthy. i looked into the big brown eyes of the cow that lived across the street and promised it i would not eat it or its family members anymore. and so it went, for six years.

i don't know what to blame it on-- overconsumption of processed soy products and nuts, stress, not enough variety in my diet (hey, i was single and making $11/hour!), or simply a cycle my body went through, but two years ago, i just started rejecting all sorts of foods. i began to cough to the point of choking after meals; my breathing was strained and my throat tight. then one night, after a dinner of almonds, cashews, cheese, and dried papaya, my body had had enough. my stomach wretched and throat tightened. i took a handful of benedryl and had my roommate drive me to urgent care. but having no medical insurance,we just sat in the waiting room for a couple of hours, finally deciding that if i didn't get worse, i would just pay $90 to go to a clinic in the morning instead of $500 for the emergency room.

after that, i stopped eating nuts, but the mild-to-moderate symptoms didn't subside. most days, i would cough, feel my throat tightening, my tongue buzzing, aching, and going numb. i thought i was going crazy. i didn't want to be alone. i remember one night my roommate and my boyfriend were both out of town, so i drove to a 24-hour store at midnight and wandered around for hours because i wanted someone to find me if i keeled over.

a few months later, my boyfriend fudged some paperwork and added me to his health insurance so i could have allergy testing. at the point of my first appointment, i had lost about fifteen pounds and was completely confused. my doctor wanted to put me on anxiety medication, but that seemed wrong. he did a blood test and called me at 7am the next day. "well, it looks like you have some allergies," he said. then he proceeded to list off nuts, peanuts, beans (yes, that means coffee! chocolate! vanilla!), wheat, soy, corn, oats, eggs, trees, flowers.. you know, food! air! life! "you had asthma as a child, right?" he asked. no! i didn't!!! then he hung up.

i immediately made an appointment with an allergist for more extensive testing and for the next few weeks, at spinach, tomatoes and cheese. the prick test from the allergist confirmed everything that my first doctor found, and that i also should stay away from pineapple, grapefruit, and spinach! now, i was really at a loss. i immediately started eating meat again, starting with chicken and beef broth and slowly adding more, but my weight kept falling. i went to my regular doctor every week for the next month, but he was unconcerned as he watched my weight drop to 114 (i'm five-foot-eight) and told me that i could survive on cheese. my throat was feeling a bit better, but i barely had the energy to get out of bed! i saw ear, nose, and throat specialists and the allergist a few more times, but the solution seemed to be to take a daily allergy pill, carry and epi-pen, and avoid what bothered me.

at that time, eating meat again was not a choice, it was a matter of survival. but in the following months, i started to question my relationship with food. maybe vegetarianism wasn't as healthy as i had thought. maybe i didn't enter into it for the right reasons (laziness? fear of cooking it improperly and getting sick? sadness for cows?). all i knew was that if i ate even a few bites of meat, i immediately felt strong and healthy. what i was questioning was the quality of the meats available to the average american. lunch meat was not an option. everything had fillers that i was avoiding-- various starches, corn syrup, etc. products containing nitrates just seemed wrong. i never wanted to be in a bag about food, but i became an obsessive label-reader and never ate out. it has taken a long time for me to enjoy food again, and i'm finding new excitement in bacon, lamb, really good steaks, and pots of soup with homemade stocks, vegetables, and rice. maybe these are the foods i should have been eating in the first place!

needless to say, i love food. i love cooking and baking and i want my food to be the best. i need you to tell me my cookies are better than the rest, to ask me for my recipes so i can tilt my head and say "hmm..? i just.. made it," with faux modesty. but i've always known that the secret to good food is good ingredients. margerine, processed white sugar, and imitation vanilla will not make good cookies. i cook for others all of the time, even though i can't eat much of what i make. it isn't accurate for me to think that i'd be entering into the butchering world as a masochist-- just the opposite, really. i want to provide people with healthy, happy meats, foods that i can have a hand in preparing and consume myself! i wouldn't be a trustworthy baker if i'd never tasted my breads, i'd be a mediocre dessert chef without sampling my pies! but i can learn how good meat looks, feels, and smells, how the animals are raised and slaughtered, the best way to butcher the meat, and innovative methods of preparation-- and i can participate in the feast that results! perhaps the best way to take care of animals is to feed them well, let them roam free, and then responsibly use them for meat.

i know my story is not unique, but perhaps it provides an unexpected backstory to my inspiration. i will try not to be so long winded and humorless in the future.

4 comments:

  1. awesomeness.
    sounds like someone needs to move to the country and become a sheep herder.

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  2. OK, I knew some of the backstory from Marissa, but now I feel all filled in. Thanks for linking to this from the other post, makes so much sense. :)

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  3. this is incredible. i would have never guessed. i really appreciate you wanting to provide happy healthy meat. that's the key :)

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